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Senators learning difficult lessons while preparing for future

Final games this season are 'building blocks for next year'

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The tug-of-war is between the present and the future, between playing the 13 games remaining in the 2018-2019 schedule for the Ottawa Senators and building for what comes next. 

Each are crucial. Each influence each other. 

In a final-minute loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday, on a David Krejci tip with 44.7 seconds remaining in regulation, the Senators lost their 40th game of the season, 3-2. With that defeat, the Senators were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though -- as goalie Craig Anderson acknowledged -- that was merely a formality. 

 

[RELATED: Senators miss playoffs, but trades could accelerate rebuild]

 

"Pretty sure we were eliminated a while ago, but I guess mathematics," Anderson said. "I think that's kind of why we made the [coaching] change (from Guy Boucher to Marc Crawford on March 1). We weren't growing as a group and I think we're starting to. I think the last four or five games we've started to grow as a group."

The Senators (23-40-6) have a League-low 52 points. They have just one win in their past 11 games (1-9-1). And they lost three of their top four scorers when forwards Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel were dealt before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25.

But there is still plenty for Ottawa to play for. 

"We have to use these next games as building blocks for next year or even guys are playing for spots next year," Anderson said. "If you come in here and you do what you're supposed to be doing, you continue to learn, it gives hope and promise to the team that going forward you can improve and be that guy that they can count on next year. That's what we're playing for right now. We're playing for guys to grow and be accountable for the seasons to come."

But that doesn't mean that Crawford doesn't want the players to be accountable now, that he doesn't want those lessons to sink in faster -- the ones that could help form their young future stars in the days and weeks and seasons to come. 

That is what had Crawford so incensed after the game.

"Teaching is great, but you need results too," he said. 

The present day, he said, is about learning. It's about improving. It's about having the kind of effort and commitment that it took to remain in the game against the Bruins, and in two games against the New York Islanders this week. But it's also about putting those lessons into play, to avoid the types of results that Saturday represented. 

"It's always about the present day," Crawford said, when challenged on that point. "For sure, we're about right now. We obviously have a strong eye on development. We've got a strong eye right now on evaluation. 

"But again, you can't come into these games and be thinking anything other than how are we going to win and how do we close games out and how do we do those things? That's where we are right now, and that's where I am right now."

That's why his statements were so strongly worded. That's why his frustration was evident. 

Because he can see the promise of players like Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. He can see the seeds of what the Senators hope to be. But he needs to see those seeds turning into buds now. The flowers can come later. But something, at this point, needs to sink in and convert. 

Video: OTT@BOS: Tkachuk beats Rask after turnover

"We've got to build on this," Crawford said. "We have to build off of a very tough, tough loss. There were a lot of dejected guys in the room after the game. But the learning thing is that we did it to ourselves. They didn't do it to us. So, the learning thing is make it stop by making sure that you have the intestinal fortitude to make those good things happen the entire 60 minutes or 65, if it goes 65. That's where we are. That's the next step for this particular team."

Against the Bruins, the Senators entered the third period tied 1-1 and took the lead on a Tkachuk goal at 2:46 of the period, the 16th of his impressive rookie season. But Ottawa couldn't hold it, with forward Chris Wagner tying the score for the Bruins at 8:47. 

Still, the Senators were rushing toward overtime, which would have been at least something against a team as hot as the Bruins, who came into the game with points in each of their last 18 games, at 14-0-4.

Then came the dagger. A Danton Heinen shot. A Krejci tip. The Bruins had the game and the win and the two points, and the Senators were left with yet another defeat. 

"We've got to learn lessons from this," Crawford said. "In order to win, it's usually always about a series of habits. And on the final goal, we missed two assignments. We had a poor change. And those things can't happen. It's not they're lucky. It's not that it was their fortunate thing or anything like that. We beat ourselves tonight at the end of the game and if this team will grow, it will grow when it stops making those fundamental mistakes."

The Senators have played better of late, in those two losses to the Islanders - one in the shootout - and in the game against the Bruins on Saturday. 

They made the games competitive against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. 

So, is there some consolation in that? Are there teaching tools there?

"Yeah. If you learn from them. That's the thing, right?" Anderson said. "They say you get smarter when you lose, but you don't want to get too smart. That means you're losing a lot. … The difference between winning and losing in this League is so fine that it's a thin line to walk on and we have to figure out what the next step is for us to get over that hump."

That was the message from Crawford.

"There's a lot of things we can take out of here that's positive," he said. "But the negative is the biggest negative, and the negative is that we ended up beating ourselves at the end. And that has to stop."

Because the future is beckoning. But the present? It's here, and Crawford and the Senators are determined to turn a better present into the better future they're hoping to see.

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